Brazil (1985) Review
How on Earth has it taken me so long to get round to watching Terry Gilliam’s classic dystopian Sci-Fi comedy? To paraphrase Admiral Kirk from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn” (stay with me): I’ve managed to see just about every film it’s influenced but like a poor marksman, I’ve kept missing the target.
The film opens with a chillingly prescient, blackly comic take on an oppressive totalitarian government where an accident involving a swatted fly results in a bureaucratic error and causes an innocent man to be seized by the authorities as a terrorist. Although it plays out like a sketch from “Monty Python’s War On Terror”, it’s actually quite alarming. This film and its subject matter are more relevant and topical right now than when the film was originally released.
Despite the weighty themes, it’s a breezily brilliant, satirical swashbuckling fantasy adventure with Jonathan Pryce having the time of his life as the would-be dashing hero Sam Lowry. Sam is a low-level clerk whose dreams offer him a chance to escape from the grim and grey reality of everyday life and soar free. However, his dreams are haunted by a beautiful, mysterious blond woman and a ferocious, giant samurai. When Sam sets out to rectify the wrongful arrest of Harry Buttle, he inadvertently gets caught in the Orwellian gears of state, encountering the real terrorist, Harry Tuttle and literally meeting the woman of his dreams. Along the way, he encounters some villainous state technicians and battles his nightmarish samurai warrior in a confrontation that is more impressive, action-packed and thrilling than this summer’s Wolverine v Silver Samurai smackdown on the big screen despite being done on a fraction of the budget. It’s no wonder this is reputed to be Pryce’s favourite role of his career.
Ian Holm, Ian Richardson, Bob Hoskins and Michael Palin round out the rich supporting cast and Robert DeNiro delights in what’s little more than a glorified cameo as enemy of the state Harry Tuttle although the means by which he dispatches Bob Hoskins’ meanly officious state technician Spoor is worth the price of admission on its own.
The special effects hold up surprisingly well for a film from the 1980s and Gilliam’s signature visual genius is abundant in every single frame. Famously butchered by the studio for release in the United States, it wasn’t until Gilliam ran a sensational guerrilla marketing campaign in open revolt of the studio bosses that it was released in all its glory and to critical acclaim. It’s even more mind-boggling that I hadn’t got around to seeing it when you hear Gilliam views is as the fulcrum of not one, but two trilogies of his films: it’s the middle film of his ‘Imagination Trilogy’ consisting of “Time Bandits”, “Brazil” and the criminally underrated “The Adventures Of Baron Munchhausen” and it’s the first film of his ‘Dystopian Satire Trilogy’ which consists of “Brazil”, “12 Monkeys” and forthcoming “The Zero Theorem”. (Note to self: re-watch “12 Monkeys”).
It’s difficult to understate how influential the production design of “Brazil” has been on modern cinema and television. You can detect its DNA in everything from “Dark City” and Tim Burton’s “Batman” through to Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” (which could almost be classed as a remake or – shudder – reimagining of “Brazil”) and the character and occupation of Hermes Conrad in “Futurama”. Despite his rich and varied back catalogue, it’s hard not to think that maybe, just maybe, “Brazil” is Gilliam’s masterpiece.